Victor Milner en Veracruz durante la invasión de 1914

Transcribo de Con Villa en México: Testimonios de camarógrafos norteamericanos en la revolución (UNAM, 1992) de Aurelio de los Reyes la breve ficha biofilmográfica de Victor Milner que aparece en la página 380:

Junto con Herbert Dean, Eddie Snyder, Burton Steene, Bill Harrison y Ben Strutman, integró el primer grupo de camarógrafos  de tiempo complete del Pathé’s Weekly. En diciembre de 1913 fue comisionado junto con Burton Steene para retratar las huelgas mineras en Trinidad, Colorado. De ahí le ordenaron hacer un viaje alrededor del mundo. En mayo filmó la ocupación norteamericana de Veracruz, es autor de las escenas mostradas en el número 36 del Pathé’s Weekly de mayo de 1914. Era conocido con el apodo de “El Dardanelo” por su audacia para retratar escenas peligrosas. Más tarde se incorporó a la producción comercial del cine argumental norteamericano, fue uno de los camarógrafos preferidos de Mary Pickford y Cecil B. DeMille y por Ernest Lubitsch en su periodo norteamericano.

Milner ganó un premio Oscar por la fotografía de Cleopatra (1934) que dirigió Cecil B. DeMille. A inicios de la década de los veinte publicó Face Out and Slowly Fade In donde narra sus inicios como proyeccionista y luego camarógrafo de noticieros fílmicos. Hoy sería considerado corresponsal de guerra. La obra nos recuerda cuando ser camarógrafo era un oficio, no un arte. La sexta parte de la obra se refiere a su trabajo para la Pathé’s Weekly durante la invasión norteamericana a Veracruz en 1914. Fue publicada en febrero de 1924 en American Cinematographer, páginas 9, 13, 14, 18 y 24. La liga es Como reza el título, la sección también incluye su actividad en Inglaterra con el rey Jorge V, información que omito pues no nos incumbe. Milner fue miembro de la A.S.C. (The American Society of Cinematographers).

Resulta curioso que Milner escriba Vera Cruz en lugar de Veracruz. Inicia Milner narrando sus problemas para encontrar un barco que lo lleve a Veracruz desde el puerto de Galveston, Texas. También fue una primicia para un servidor encontrarme con la noticia que Jack London estuvo en Veracruz durante la invasión norteamericana. Así como saber que la filmación del ataque a la aduana de Veracruz fue una recreación, pues el verdadero enfrentamiento ya se había dado cuando Milner llegó al puerto.

Recreación del asalto a la aduana de Veracruz.

Fade Out and Slowly Fade In

By Victor Milner, A.S.C. (1924)

Sixth installment wherein A.S.C. veteran covers
Vera Cruz and shoots the King of England

Returning to Denver from Trinidad, Colo., after an adventurous week of bullet dodging among the coal mine strikers and imported gunmen, I was greeted at the Brown Palace Hotel in the former city with a telegram about ten years ago that instructed me to leave for Galveston, Texas, at once, to cover the embarkation of the American troops for Vera Cruz which at that time, just as at the present, was the seat of considerable trouble in Mexican affairs.

I thought that my return to Denver would enable me to get in a period of rest after the days of uncertainty that had been forced on me at Trinidad. The scenes which transpired there were anything but a credit to American civilization, and so cordial were the various elements in the town toward newspapermen and photographers that none, of us regarded it as particularly healthful to be seen on the streets after dark.

The Nose for News

My stay in Trinidad was interrupted by a hurried trip down into New Mexico on which I embarked when I discovered that my friend, Bill Shepard, of the United Press, had mysteriously left town. Anything which would take Bill out of Trinidad at that time must have been important so I began to cast around for the reason for his leaving. But Shepard, able newspaperman that he is, left no tracks behind him and I had to do my own Sherlock Holmes work. Gradually – it was only a matter of a few hours – I got wind of a terrible mine disaster that was supposed to have happened down in New Mexico, so I took the first train out of Trinidad, and after a sleepless night in an upper berth of a tourist Pullman, I arrived early the next morning near the property of the Phelps Dodge mine.

I was in time to film rescue workers removing bodies from the charred interior. And, true to my deductions, I found Bill Shepard there. When he saw me, he looked as if he thought that I had dropped from the sky. The first thing he asked was “how the —- did you get
here?” and then went on to explain that he had to leave Trinidad hurriedly, that he couldn’t find me when he was ready to leave or he would have tipped me off. It was our custom to work together while we were at Trinidad.

Local Powers Resented Camera

I had only been at the mine a few hours when Shepard told me that the powers of that locality had become apprised of the fact that someone was there with a motion picture camera and that they, did not like the idea of my presence at all. He advised me to vamoose, and, respecting his advice I did; I vamoosed forthwith in a rented flivver. As I left the mine behind, with a film record of the disaster in the machine, I began to arrive at a few conclusions and when I reached a little town near Ratoon Pass I proceeded to carry those conclusions into effect. I took my can of film and addressed it personally to Mr. Franconi, at No. 1 Congress street, Jersey City, N.J. I wanted film to go with as few indications as possible that it was film. Scarcely had I safely deposited the can in the express office, when it became evident that my conclusions had been correct. As I was driving away I was overtaken by a high-powered automobile bearing New Mexico license plates and the driver thereof lost no time in letting it be known that he meant business, and meant it with me. He demanded the film that I had taken of the disaster but I told him that I had none. His looks all but called me the short and ugly word so I invited him to search the flivver. He did so, and, much to his doubt and disappointment, did not find what he was looking for.

Whereupon I proceeded unchallenged back to Trinidad.

So you see when I received the wire at the Brown Palace to go to Galveston it surely did appear that things were being rushed. The telegram stated that permission was being arranged through Secretary Daniels for me to sail on one of the United States destroyers. That night I was on my way to Galveston.

The Texas coast town was a beehive of activity when I arrived there. Transports alongside the wharves – brass bands – sweethearts – old mothers – tears – smiles – handkerchiefs – all that.

Self-Conscious Acting

But while everything seemed very realistic to me as the layman I, as the news cameraman, knew that it would be hard to get this atmosphere over in a news film. Have you ever noticed, in news films, that when the subjects discover that they are being filmed,
unconsciously they begin to begin to act, I might say, with the result that they do appear as they naturally would? So I determined to take the situation in my own hands to obtain some atmosphere that would appear as it naturally did. I saw an old lady standing in the shadow of a warehouse. In a glance I knew that she was a representative type, and in a few moments I was photographing her weeping on the shoulder of her “only son” as he was
about to embark for war on the U.S.S. Kilpatrick. It made a great shot considering that until a few minutes previous she had never seen her “son” before and, what was more, she had come down to the waterfront merely as a spectator. I carried the sequence through with a close-up of her shedding tears and waving her handkerchief at the ship as it pulled out in the background.

Permission Mining

In the meantime I had not been able to locate any naval officer who had been in receipt of orders from the Navy Department permitting me to proceed to Vera Cruz with the fleet. I dashed about and interviewed the commanders of the various destroyers, all of whom informed me that they had received no such orders.

Victor Milner en Veracruz. American Cinematographer, febrero, 1924

First Competitors on Job

It was getting to the critical point. The transports were leaving, as were my competitors of the newly-formed International News Weekly on a chartered sea-going tug. They didn’t forget to give me the “razz,” either, when, knowing of my predicament, they pulled out. So I was left sitting at the water-front, discouraged and downhearted.

I returned to the hotel, and telephoned Western Union which was still without word for me. I could not clear my mind of the tug leading the fleet to Vera Cruz, and the thought that I was going to be scooped so thoroughly was not pleasant in the least. In addition, I
was humiliated by my competitors’ razzing.

Belated Authority

Later in the afternoon, the phone in my room rang. The Western Union operator informed me that my permission from Secretary Daniels had finally arrived. I hung up in disgust.

Friend in Telegraph Office

After eating a late lunch, I returned to my room to pack up and had already set about doing so when the phone rang again. The lady in the Western Union office, knowing of my predicament, told me over the wire that an old cattle boat was clearing for Vera Cruz within the next few minutes.

Cattle Boat Intervenes

Hardly pausing to hang the phone up, I dashed downstairs, jumped into a taxi and was at the dock and talking to a cattle boat’s skipper in short order. I told him that I was a newspaperman – to have described myself as a news cameraman would have meant little at that time – and made known my wants. He quietly told me that there were no cabins left, that they were to leave for Vera Cruz in ten minutes, and that if I could return with my outfit within that time I was welcome to what quarters I could find aboard the ship.

I was on my way back to the hotel in an instant. I rushed my trunk and outfit down into the taxi in the flash of an eye and shot back toward the dock. It was raining hard and the streets were very slippery. The driver heeded my instructions and “stepped on it” with much skidding and several close escapes from collisions.

Blockaded by Freight Train

Just as we were within sight of the dock, a freight train pulled across our path and anchored, blockading the street. I could see all our skidding and efforts come to nothing. The minutes that we were stalled there seemed like years, but I was able to hurl my camera
outfit aboard the boat and clamber on myself just as the bow was swinging out.

Celebrities on Cattle Boat

Much to my surprise, I found Jack London, his wife, Brown of the Chicago Daily News, and other celebrities aboard the cattle boat. The company may have been distinguished, but the surroundings surely were not. I was able to effect a deal with the first mate whereby I occupied his quarters- such as they were, with the cockroaches and other vermin playing hide and seek while the very decided aroma of the cattle below permeated the atmosphere.

First at Vera Cruz

But we arrived in Vera Cruz, and arrived there in good time – time enough, in fact, for me to have set up and to have been photographing my International News rivals as they came into port on their chartered tug. There weren’t two more surprised men in Mexico than [Ariel] Varges and [A.E.] Wallace of the News when they saw that it was I who was taking pictures of their arrival in the Mexican port. They were even more surprised than Bill Shepard was when he met me at the mine disaster in New Mexico. Incidentally, since I last saw Capt. Varges, whom I had the honor of initiating into the lore of the cinema camera, he has represented International in all parts of the world, having recently returned to the East from a lengthy journey. How different it must be in Vera Cruz today with several news reel agencies being represented where a decade ago only a single outfit had arisen to challenge the supremacy which Pathe had established.

Attack on Custom House

If any of the readers have a powerful enough memory to recall the Pathe scenes of Vera Cruz during Uncle Sam’s occupation they may remember the attack on the custom house. Well, if you promise to keep it a secret I’ll tell you that the attack had already transpired when I arrived in Vera Cruz. With the aid of Ensign Martin, of the U.S.S. Texas, and necessary permission and troops, the attack was reproduced perfectly- so perfectly in fact that our very keen editor in Jersey City took it for the real and original, and complimented me highly for it. Which goes to prove that the right sort of direction has its place in news reels, too.Vera Cruz at the time was a riot of color – generals, naval officers, beautiful women. Richard Harding Davis was there, but did not mix with the “boys” as Jack London did. Martial law was in effect. The late General Fred Funston was in command and things gradually were returning to “normalcy” under his able command when, one day, while at lunch with my brother photographers, a rumor reached us that the Mexicans were preparing for an attack on the water-works. We went immediately to Gen. Funston’s headquarters and were given permission to accompany the troops. The soldiers were on the way and doing double time up the narrow gauge railway. There was a dozen of us with cumbersome outfits which were mostly Graflexes and, other still cameras. Mine, with a tripod and an extra magazine, was the heaviest of all, and it was not an easy job to lug it double-time up-hill in tropical weather. It required a smart man that I to suggest that we find a hand-car and let it work for us- and, that man was Jim O’Hare of Collier’s Weekly. How we did perspire pumping that handcar.

Of course there wasn’t any attack. Gen. Funston was a little too fast for them. The only attack that I experienced was one of “chiggers” which required a vaseline “bath” in
the hospital to stem their onslaught.

Quarantined in Galveston

We finally left Vera Cruz but my troubles were not over. When we arrived in the port of Galveston we had to remain aboard in quarantine a week- the U.S. in sight all the time – before we were permitted to land.

My next big assignment after that in Vera Cruz was relayed to me one day when I was in the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. The telegram was very brief, instructing me to report to New York immediately to go with the Giants and the White Sox on their tour around the world.